Simply stunning: Aerial view of the “flying saucer-shaped” original Roundhouse. Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, 1967
Have you ever sat at the Roundhouse Lodge and — while munching a delicious burger — asked yourself why this light-flooded but pretty square-cut, mid-mountain venue is called “Round”-house?
Here is the answer to the brain-twister: Today’s Roundhouse Lodge had a much smaller, flying saucer-shaped precursor that perched atop Whistler Mountain just across from where the Valley View Room is located today.
When Whistler Mountain opened in January 1966 there was no cafeteria. In the first season, hot drinks, soup and sandwiches were served off a picnic table using a Coleman camp stove in the so-called Red Shack at the top of the Red Chair.
Laying foundations for the original Roundhouse. Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, summer 1966
The original Roundhouse was built in the summer of 1966 and opened in the following winter. It was a copy of a building in California and was designed as a warming hut with a huge fireplace in the middle where the skiers warmed their feet. No food or washrooms were in the design for the original building. Back then, Skiers couldn’t use inside toilets, only outhouses on the hill below the Roundhouse. John Hetherington, president of the Whistler Museum and ski patroller in the late 1960s, remembers that part of their job was to shovel out and clean the outhouses. “Ugly job” he says.
Early plans for the original Roundhouse: Developers took pictures and marked relevant areas. Whistler Museum, Whistler Mountain collection, early 1960s
The ironic truth is: They built the Roundhouse on a large rocky knob that wooed them with a magnificent all-round view but then left them high and dry. They couldn’t find any water on that knoll. Two hydraulic engineering companies were engaged to study the area – without any success.
They were so desperate that they brought up a professional water dowser from Vancouver Island. Hugh Smythe, a teenage ski patroller at that time who went on to become the CEO of Blackcomb Mountain and all of Intrawest, remembers actually being with the dowser when he located the water which was one year after the original Roundhouse was built. “We found a number of locations but the best was just below where the Peak2Peak terminal is now” he recalls.
The dowser wandered around for a while. Just beside the Roundhouse his willow stick bent down like crazy, and he declared that there was running water about 30 feet below. The next spring they brought up a company with a water drilling rig. And guess what? They really found water. Relieved, a pump was sunk that brought up enough running water for the kitchen and the toilets of the Roundhouse.
The top of the old Red Chair with the original Roundhouse in the background. Whistler Museum, Griffith collection, 1970s
In the following years, there were constant renovations done on the building. When first built, the Roundhouse stood on posts with the wind blowing freely beneath the building, making it almost impossible to heat. One of the major alterations was digging out and enclosing a lower floor. Indoor toilets were installed. The fireplace was removed to make room for a kitchen. They wired the place for electricity, and installed a large diesel generator in the basement which was stolen during a later winter in the 1970s, remembers John.
Finally, in 1998 the original Roundhouse was replaced by the new palatial building. Though, the original Roundhouse hasn’t disappeared entirely. Pieces of it became part of the wall of fame in today’s Roundhouse.
Tyrol Club members taking a break at the original Roundhouse. Notice the smokes on the table. Photo courtesy: John Preissl